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Brazil to build ‘underwater cities’ to drill for oil

By Daniel Tencer
Wednesday, December 29, 2010 19:55 EDT
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Brazil’s state oil company is planning to do away with offshore oil drilling platforms and replace them with automated “underwater cities” that extract oil.

In what could prove to be one of the most ambitious industrial projects ever undertaken, Petrobras is drawing up plans to place giant machinery and robots 6,000 feet under the sea floor, with humans controlling the oil-drilling “city” remotely, the Telegraph reports.

The underwater city would be capable of separating oil from sand and water, and even generating its own energy.

“Our target is that we won’t need platforms ten years from now,” Carlos Tadeu Fraga of the Petrobras Research Center told the Telegraph.

Petrobras’ move comes as conventional oil rigs suffer from a damaged reputation in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But it is not clear whether the new “underwater cities” would reduce the risk of oil spills, and the prospect of entire oil-drilling operations being controlled remotely will likely alarm environmental activists.

With oil prices trending upwards for years and many analysts warning of peak oil — the day when oil production begins shrinking — energy firms are turning to ever-larger, more unconventional methods for extracting oil.

Canada’s oil sands, for example, have been described as an unprecedented industrial project, with dozens of companies investing more than $100 billion into extracting oil from sands in the north of Alberta. The project — which involves the construction of some of the world’s largest dams and the use of enormous land-stripping equipment — has been described as an ecological nightmare.

Brazil was catapulted to the status of major oil producer in 2006, when a massive deposit of oil was discovered off the country’s Atlantic coast. This week, Petrobras estimated the oil field to contain 8.3 billion barrel of recoverable oil and natural gas.

In all, Brazil has 12.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil, making it the second-largest South American producer after Venezuela.

The Telegraph reports the company will take the first experimental step in making its underwater cities a reality when it installs machines in its Campos Basin oil field that will be able to separate oil from water.

No estimate of the project’s cost was available.

 
 
 
 
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